Gospel: Lk 1:57-66
When the time came for Elizabeth, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the merciful Lord had done a wonderful thing for her, and they rejoiced with her.
When, on the eighth day, they came to attend the circumcision of the child, they wanted to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “Not so; he shall be called John.” They said to her, “But no one in your family has that name!” and they made signs to his father for the name he wanted to give him. Zechariah asked for a writing tablet, and wrote on it, “His name is John;” and they were very surprised. Immediately, Zechariah could speak again, and his first words were in praise of God.
A holy fear came on all in the neighborhood, and throughout the hill country of Judea the people talked about these events. All who heard of it, pondered in their minds, and wondered, “What will this child be?” For they understood that the hand of the Lord was with him.
In his play Romeo and Juliet (II, 1-2), Shakespeare makes Juliet ask:
“What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other name
would smell as sweet.”
This view of things is thoroughly Western, for in the Bible a name is considered very important. It is not a mere identity tag. It has a mysterious affinity with its bearer, it can even predict the kind of person he or she will be. It often expresses religious belief or a prayer of petition.
Today’s gospel reading revolves around what name should be given to Zechariah’s child. Zechariah in Hebrew means “Yahweh remembers.” But in the Bible this name is ambiguous. In some contexts it refers to a remembrance by God of a person’s sins and with a view to punishing that person. On the other hand, the name John (Yehohanan in Hebrew) means “Yahweh is gracious,” a name much more fitting in the circumstances than the name Zechariah. Besides, the orders of the angel Gabriel were clear: “You shall name him John” (Lk 1:13)
What’s in a name? A lot. Do you know why you were given your name? Any connection with God, by chance?